Chapter 25: The Broken Spirit of an Unwilling Heart
Chapter 25: The Broken Spirit of an Unwilling Heart
Chapter 25: The Broken Spirit of an Unwilling Heart

25th Mar 2013, 4:31 PM

by inhonoredglory

It had hardly been half an hour, and the sharp pain was still ringing on the side of his head, the hair now sitting over the fresh burn, irritating it. No, he hadn't screamed when the hot iron met his skin, but tears had now soaked up his eyes, and he blinked them back, his wrists still latched to the top of the bench, the break of day opening up now in the east, behind the small blacksmith shop, a shadow over the front of the smithy, dark and ragged and hopeless. The injuries in his body still pained him, but he'd grown used to them now, and the severity of his situation made all physical pain a non-issue. He inhaled, cleared his eyes and looked out, at the dark shape of Heather ahead of him, outside the shop, in the space just outside this smithy and the active one just farther ahead. She was speaking, giving commands to her people, telling them to intercept the enemy and hold them off from landing. It wasn't a long speech, but to the point and direct. "The dragons aren't trained yet," she said, and he inhaled, shifted his wrists in the metal clasps. That was his job, wasn't it?

But what would his father think of this now? If running away was a bad thing, running off in the middle of a war yet worse, and charging into the enemy to save your pet even more horrible-- But Toothless wasn't a mere pet. Hiccup bit his lip. Still, this had to have been the saddest mess he got himself into. Even if his father didn't know who he was and what he agreed to do, he did, and that was hard enough.

He braced himself as Heather approached. Whatever would happen, it wasn't going to be as she planned, he could guarantee that much.

"I, uh," she started, and leaned down to him. "I think you've had a break enough. You'll start training dragons now."

He didn't look up at her, didn't answer, disgusted by the sound of her voice and filled with a sudden horrible rage. His mind grew dark, and in the confinement of choice, he forced himself to focus on the basics, the simple truths he could hold onto. For Toothless. For Toothless, he repeated.

A hand was on his shoulder, the injured one, and he flinched. She let go, said something to some men around her, and the big hands came in and grabbed his arms, releasing the latch on his hands, snapping a metal ring around his neck, with a chain attached to it. A simple, honest, frightening sense of shame came over him, his wrists wrapped behind his back, the leash tugging him forward, a sword somewhere behind him, as a general threat against possible escape. He didn't dare look up, didn't want to see anything or anyone he knew. Not until this was over. He closed his eyes. What had he done?

They led him to the Skirra Véllite Hall, and in the brightening day, he could sense the rush of activity in the town. He could hear the warriors making weapons, a group doing rituals before the war, laughing, a horrible laughing among a camaraderie of men. Children were running in the streets, and he coughed in the dust from their play. Women were putting up clothing to dry, and when he looked at them, he saw that they were looking at him, some of them. Curious eyes turned down to his bum leg and knowing looks passed over their faces. The clap of his metal leg felt loud suddenly, as he turned away and looked down, as they brought him under the tunnel to the great ring in the Hall, as they yanked him forward, taking pleasure in his yelps of shock, as they latched the end of his leash to a thick hook in the stone wall and as some heavy warrior stood watch over him, sword unsheathed and ready.

"Bring out a dragon!" Heather's voice rang clear and authoritative in the Hall. He looked down, away from the people lining the Hall above, and the small gathering in the Hall now. "We won't be killing the Night Fury, men, not today."

Voices of confusion filled the air. "The prize dragon--?"

"I thought surely it would bring us luck in the war."

Luck. Just the thought of that man's words filled him with a horror and a spitting revulsion. Hiccup looked up, saw familiar faces surrounding Heather, speaking those words of dissent. It was her Council. A chill froze him. Those were the very men he and his friends had tried to teach so lovingly the art of dragon training back at Berk, at home. In a time so long ago, when things were so awfully different than they were now. He looked away, stared down at his feet, couldn't stand them to see him, even though he painfully knew they would soon enough.

"He's made a deal," Heather said, a mix of authority and sincerity in her voice. "He will work for us, help us train dragons, and we'll spare the prize dragon."

"But tradition--"

"I keep the promises I make, Brandr. You listen to me." She was curt and sharp.

"But we're supposed to kill him, and the dragon -- both of them."

Hiccup flinched, could sense the man pointing to him.

The sound of a cape whipped around and Heather snapped again. "Maybe this is better, Brandr. Shut up and don't question me. We don't have time. Stoick is coming here, and we need weapons."

"But we have been training them."

"Oh? Let me see what you got."

"Well, it's not exactly perfect yet--"

"Can you ride it?"

"Um, no."

"We need them now, not when you can figure it out."

Heather's footfalls came striding to him now, and he looked up through his bangs, instinctively, saw her boots stop in front of him. She pushed his chin up, looked at him. "You're going to have a long day, Hiccup," she said, pausing at his name, and his heart beat faster suddenly, to hear her talking to him, the sound of his name on her lips. She unhooked the metal clasp from around his neck, let the chain clatter to the stone floor. She unwound the rope around his wrists and patted his hand. Her eyes drifted up to his, and he stared back. Her eyes flickered and she turned away, whispering, "Don't try any fancy escapes." For a moment she sounded almost motherly, and a revulsion shot through his throat, making it hard to breath for a minute. The man with the sword pushed him forward into the ring. The Council members watched him, some hard and angry, and one with no expression to his presence. One of them, the man in the Hall who had so glibly spoken of his slave trade -- he looked down at Hiccup now with a grin and a laugh. "Most appropriate," he laughed, largely, and spat at Hiccup's feet. Hiccup shot his head away from the man, gasping with horror.

A squawk came from within one of the dark tunnels in the walls suddenly. It was a dragon's scream, a Nightmare. The men fell away from him, he could feel, and the dragon's sound came forward in the darkness. Hiccup felt a tension, and his mind shot back for a moment to that time he faced his first Nightmare, in a Kill Ring not so different from this one. But now he had no dagger, no shield. Did these people have that much faith in his skill? The dragon came into the light, aflame already and bound in the jaws by a metal ring. He hissed and Hiccup stepped back, respecting the anger.

The dragon lay his head low, growled at Hiccup, the flame on his body crackling in the ring. Hiccup took a deep breath, felt alive suddenly, in the presence of this energy and danger, but a danger he was familiar with, a danger he thrived on, because he had so long tamed it and channeled that hate into love.

He put a hand out, instinctively, soothing words humming from his lips. The dragon eyed him, his eyes wide, yet still sparking with anger. The flame on his body cooled, and Hiccup saw the deep maroon of his scales, scarred with the scratch of metal and rust.

Hiccup stepped forward, and then realized what he was doing.

No.

You're not training this dragon.

You can't.


He pulled his hand back, too sharply, and the Nightmare reared, his eyes lost of that curiosity now. A thick hiss vibrated from his throat, and he crawled swiftly forward, his eyes on the closest enemy. Hiccup kept his feet planted on the stone, watched warily as the dragon approached, slithered up towards him, guttural vibrations filling the air. The dragon's eyes were locked on him, and his wings stepped forward, the clink of those hooked wings sharp on the stone, the shiver of his jaws against the metal lock on his snout, the hum of decision. Hiccup swallowed, stepped forward. The dragon put a hooked wing out, coming closer, huffed a breath and throated deeply. Hiccup had seen that look before, years ago, when the dragons on Berk were still wild and the only opinion they had of mankind was that they were not to be trusted. There was murder in that dragon's eyes, locked under the metal of his bonds, thin eyes angry and impatient. Hiccup stood still in the face of him, his mind whirring. How to stay alive, and yet how to keep the dragon wild? Sure, he could just let the dragon finish him right there, but then what of Toothless?

Hiccup put his hands out, inhaled, his chest aching, and firmed his frame. Maybe he could ride this dragon out of the Kill Ring, set the whole town on fire, find Toothless, get the kids out--

But that was too much to hope for, wasn't it? There were warriors all around, and he'd be killed the moment he threw his legs over the creature. At least he couldn't risk something so daring right now. He needed to think things through. This was serious. Maybe before, when he was young, he might have tried it. But he'd risked too many things in the past few days, and his love for Toothless had brought him here, his love for Toothless had made him agree to this treasonous act, his love had made him risk his tribe and his father's well being, as well as his friends.

He swallowed, felt weak suddenly. Why did he have to think so much? The dragon in front of him reared his head, his thin throat vibrating with hate. Hiccup felt his mind waver, and he was swept with a wash of dizziness. He hadn't eaten in hours, and those berries weren't much to keep a sick boy going, not through this kind of torture. And adrenaline only went so far, when you're almost defeated.

But that was it, wasn't it? A brightness entered his head and he let the lightheadedness take him, didn't fight it, encouraged it even, felt his legs give out under him, and he willfully slipped to the stone floor, wincing when his wracked body hit the ground. But at least he could buy time.

Somewhere above him, the dragon let out a lisp of fire, and he could feel the pounding of feet past him, Viking shouting, and chains lashing. The dragon screamed. A pang of regret hit Hiccup's heart. The dragon was being pulled back, and Heather's voice was screaming frustration. Suddenly, someone kicked him and he yelped, shocked, and opened his eyes. The man above him, that horrible one who spat on him, Ragnar was his name, he remembered now, he bent down and pulled Hiccup up by the collar. "You'll have to do better than that, boy." His voice was pleasurably hot. Hiccup didn't respond, exhaled forcefully as the man threw him to the ground. The weakness was refreshing somehow, just to stop fighting. Force wasn't going to get him anywhere, not him. Even when he was healthy he wasn't the strongest Viking, how much more now in his condition? He was scared to think about what might happen to him if he didn't get any treatment, even just a bandage, fresh water, warmth. But these people didn't care. He needed his strength to save Toothless, to save Astrid, to save the kids. But he was so tired. So . . . tired. He curled up on the floor, the sting of his injuries coming back as if on cue. But it was better to be this way than to do what they wanted. For however long he could stall them.

The tap of Heather's feet met his ears now, and she rolled him over, looked at him with those dark black, shadowed eyes. For a moment he thought he saw an honest concern in them, but he couldn't be sure now, not with the waver in his vision. "I don't have time for stuff like this," she said at last and she clicked her fingers, waved her hand at someone outside of Hiccup's vision. There was another clatter of chains scraping across the stone floor and Heather took the metal leash from someone, bent down and slipped her hands under his head. The metal was shockingly cold around his neck, as she clapped it shut. Her eyes looked him over, and she pulled the leash taught, raised his neck slightly and he grimaced. "Come on," she said, a sharpness in her voice. She pulled in the chain and Hiccup relented, held the leash with his good hand and followed it up. His metal leg dragged on the stone as he walked, followed her. She handed the leash to Ragnar. "I'm sure the slaves still have something sustaining and warm for him," she said, quietly, looking back at Hiccup. "Make it fast, and keep a watch on him."

"I can tell mine to cook something quick, if that's what you want." It was the softer voice of her older council member, Gamal.

Heather shook her head. "Just get it over with and bring him back. We need these dragons trained." She locked her eyes to Hiccup's and the boy avoided them, looked down at his feet. Any amount of time gained was an advantage.

:: ::

Ragnar was the last person Hiccup wished he was being led by. While he could sense something at least human in the faces of those other council members, this one was cold, if not in personality, but in his view of slaves and of him. He had an obvious pleasure to tripping Hiccup on the way to this place they were going. "Let up, won't you?" Hiccup gasped at last, frustrated by how pointless the taunting was.

Ragnar stopped and turned back, pulled the chain again and got Hiccup's face close to his coat of black, rusty armor. "You're not in a good position to be demanding things, are you?" He walked forward again, yanking the leash. Hiccup exhaled, grabbed the chain and held it out, trying to keep the collar from creating a deeper rash on the back of his neck.

The man led him to a shallow ditch on the outskirts of town, a wide valley of sorts, many yards across, filled with people clad in ratted clothing, milling among themselves in a strange detachment from the rest of the village. Hiccup hadn't seen these people in the town before, they looked different. Not just in the way they carried themselves, but in their faces, their speech. He could hear foreign languages, hair and skin color, that though all unified with the grime and sweat of work, were different from those he was used to. And on each of them, often on the side of the head, but sometimes on the upper arm, there was the slavemark, the curled rusty brown wound in the shape of a small dragon. He got self conscious suddenly, as he followed Ragnar down to the lower ground, and he shied away, tried to look small, but most of the slaves were watching this new person in their ranks. He inhaled. It really wasn't going to be so bad, was it? These people weren't Skirra Véllites, they didn't share that same hate for him as the others did . . . didn't they? He looked around, at the older slaves, fraying white hair on their bare scalps, wrinkled lips pausing in conversation to watch him, and the dark olive features of a group of women, muttering among themselves, oblivious to him and to anyone, taking turns stirring a pot that sat boiling over a fire. And the sound of native songs, humming and growing quiet now, in the far corner out of his sight, replaced by the general curiosity that came over the mutterings now. In the stillness, Hiccup noticed the tempting scent of meat cooking over a fire, and he was struck by a great desire to sit down and . . . taste food once more.

Ragnar yanked at the leash again, harder this time and Hiccup lost his balance, fell and he caught himself with his left arm on the ground. The old stab wound sparked up again and he locked his jaw, withholding any yelp of pain. But it must have been plain on his face, for some of the slaves around him jumped and started coming to him.

"Shove the sympathy," Ragnar lisped, waving the chain in his hand. "I came here to feed him and I want to see him fed." He clicked his fingers and pointed somewhere. Hiccup pressed his weight onto his right hand, tried to get up, his fingers shoving into the soft dirt wet with mud and trampled grass. There was a murmur of voices around him, and someone came close. Hiccup looked up, found a foreign face looking down at him, and at Ragnar, blinking blankly. She was youthful, wore a graying straight tunic that once was blue and unfrayed, a tattered apron around her thin waist. She had a crust of bread in her hand and she kept it there. She knelt down to his level. "You . . . hurt? Hurt." Her Norse was broken, and her accent thick.

Hiccup squinted his eyes, nodded tightly. He held his left arm. Her eyes picked their way down his body, and she frowned when she crossed his abdomen. "Not good," she said. He looked down, saw the almost completely stained tunic of his own, under his fur coat, the green color all dissolved and lost in the drying red turning brown. The cuts were healing, in their own way, sticking to his clothing, and he looked away quickly, didn't want to think about it. She handed him the crust of bread suddenly and stepped away, to the curious group of women by the pot.

Ragnar above him was quiet, and Hiccup felt vibes that maybe he wasn't the most comfortable among so many slaves. He bit off a piece of the bread, quickly, because he felt nervous suddenly, as if he might not have that long in this moment of quiet.

There was an older man approaching him now, a small group behind him, or various foreign faces. A dark-haired younger man looked down at him from the side, slid up to him confidently, slyly, it seemed. He looked different, not like a slave at all, though he wore the slavemark on his head and his hands were hard with callous and his brow wet with beads of sweat. He wiped a hand over his forehead, nudged his head at Hiccup and slid down on the ground, pulling his legs beneath him. "So who owns you, newcomer?"

Hiccup stopped eating, held the bread still in his hand.

The young man took a knife out of his belt, played with the blade in his finger. "Looks like they're in a hurry for you to go somewhere." He looked up at Ragnar. "So, what gives? Whose property are you?"

Hiccup looked up at Ragnar, felt the heat in his blood warm him, despite the weakness in his muscles. He looked back at the young man with the strange sly glint in his eye. "No one owns me," he said, slowly, quietly, with much more meaning that what someone like Ragnar would take it.

Apparently Ragnar heard that, jerked up at the leash again and Hiccup yelped, choking for a moment. Hiccup grabbed the chain and pulled it down, relieving the pressure. Ragnar leaned down to the young man. "He belongs to the chief and his daughter. Make room for him, Vott. That house is getting busy."

The other man, Vott, made no reaction, sniffed and shrugged his shoulders. He looked down casually at Hiccup, whispered. "See ya 'round." He stood up and melded into the crowd of slaves that had now come around, surrounding Hiccup. An elderly man, with spits of white hair on his pink bald head stooped forward and pushed a bowl into Hiccup's hands. He had a friendly face, and his mute mouth mumbled things as if he could be heard. He smiled and his eyes twitched this way and that. He seemed something like a happy sage, a simple mind maybe, but innocent. Hiccup looked down at the bowl. It was some kind of soup, watery and cloudy, with a few floating chunks of bread and threads of meat in it. He looked back up at the old man. "Thank you."

The old man squinted his eyes, made a motion with his shoulders and hands, saying something Hiccup took as 'it's no big deal.'

Hiccup could feel Ragnar watching him as he spooned the soup into his mouth. There was an irritation in his scowl, and he stepped forward towards the slaves at last, impatience in his step. The crowd backed away slightly. "There's something I should tell you about this particular slave," he said with a loud voice, putting both hands against his hips. Hiccup swallowed his spoonful of soup, listened. He had a bad feeling about this, though, really, how could things get worse anyway?

Hiccup watched the slaves. The old, weary faces perked their eyes and looked at Hiccup, some propping themselves on gnarly sticks, and others, wiping their hands on their tattered clothing, wary of this man they must have known was cruel. Younger, fresher folk still mulled and mumbled, in native languages and with foreign gestures.

Ragnar pointed to Hiccup. "This here, this is the son of Chief Stoick the Vast, of Berk, our great chief's archenemy."

Hiccup stopped eating. So this is what it was? To try and shame him, again? He looked up, saw shocked faces, but a kind of shock that went from a reaction to something new to a realization of something deep and lasting. Someone shook his head, an older man, one of the few with a coat, and he looked at Hiccup with sad, sorry eyes.

"Yes," said Ragnar, his voice pleased to have found something to entertain his bored mind. "We have ended the line of that scum of a tribe. And you, each of you will live with the knowledge of our victory."

Hiccup wasn't ready to believe a word the man was saying. He had confidence in his tribe, that they wouldn't stoop to the notion that just because someone was marked as a slave didn't mean he had to live that way. A fire welled in his heart and he looked up, saw that an honest shiver had gone through the crowd.

"And more than that--" Ragnar was in his element now, and Hiccup narrowed his eyes at him, fed up with this immaturity.

"More than that . . ." His voice was slower now and he stepped up to Hiccup, looked down at him with serious, dark eyes. "He's agreed to be a traitor to his own tribe, to train dragons for his father's adversaries."

Hiccup's heart stopped, as he stared up at Ragnar's cutting eyes, not breaking the stare. It wasn't as if he didn't know what he was doing, as if he hadn't thought those very words before, but in this way, out loud, without a context and without a reason . . .

Ragnar turned back to the crowd. "It's a weak man who does such things, a very, very weak man."

Hiccup couldn't stand it, locked his jaw. "You don't know anything."

Ragnar laughed. "I know the facts." He jerked on the collar again, dragged Hiccup forward, before the boy got hurriedly to his feet, leaving his half-finished bowl in the dirt and grass. "It's time to train dragons. You'll make us a fine army, slave, a very fine army."

:: ::

In the Kill Ring again, Hiccup sat there, legs laid out over the stone, his back against the cold wall in the corner, his chain attached to a hook on the stone. He closed his eyes, listened to the Council talking, arguing it seemed, in the far corner of the ring. He breathed slowly, weighed his chances of getting away if he trained one more dragon, committed his first acts as a warrior and left a mess of burned, dead Skirra Véllites in his wake, as he forced his way out of this cave in the mountain. The thought shivered his heart, and he bent his head down, prepared himself for the worst. If they were smart, they'd think about that possibility, maybe make provisions to stop him. He prayed they hadn't.

He looked up and saw them arguing, Ragnar and Heather. She was frustrated, terribly angry and hot, irritated at him and whatever he was saying. He caught glimpses of their words, something about him and the slaves. He gathered the conversation was about what Ragnar had done with him among the slaves.

"How can you be so stupid?" Heather shouted suddenly, and slapped him. Hiccup blinked, held his back against the stone. She waved Ragnar off, and the Council backed away from her, towards the opening in the side of the wall. She whipped her cape around, turned to Hiccup and crossed the arena with long, sure steps. Hiccup watched her approach, void of emotion.

She leaned down and put a hand out for him. "I have to apologize for Ragnar. He didn't have to do that."

He looked at her from the side of his eyes, didn't take the hand. Maybe she figured out that after something like that, he wasn't going to do anything for them now.

She moved to his left, unhooked the chain from the wall. The low-hanging middle of the leash scraped on the ground as she moved backwards. "Come." Her voice was strangely soft and -- he hated to admit it -- but kind. It made him sick. Sick of this lying and this treachery. The metal around his neck pulled forward, and he looked up, saw her trying to urge him up, the chain looped in her hand.

"Listen." She kneeled down and leaned towards him. "We made a deal," she whispered. "I would save your dragon and you would help us here."

He couldn't look at her, heard her words and breathed slowly.

She unhooked the metal collar from his neck, turned around, and shouted for the Nightmare to be taken out again, called for someone at the top of the Ring, in the circular level above them, to ready his bow "in case the boy tries anything."

Hiccup swallowed. It was the risk he was willing to take. It had to work. It had to.

The Nightmare was released back into the ring, and when he stood up to face it, Heather backed away, went behind Hiccup. She'd gotten a shield from a group of weapons in the entrance to the ring and now held it out in front of her. She'd released him from the chain, let him walk forward once more to the growling face of that beautiful creature. Hiccup took a deep breath, hummed words of comfort and understanding to the dragon. He got a few feet from the dragon's still-hissing snout, put his hands out, knelt on the stone floor, hushing and whispering. "It's all right," he breathed, and his nervousness made his voice crack. The dragon regarded him closely, cautiously, and Hiccup put his hands down, lay them on the floor, as he settled on the ground, small and fragile in front of the dragon. "I'm not an enemy," he said, a quiet confidence and strength in his voice now. The dragon eyed him, his wings, crawling forward, and he laid his snout low, curling down to the stone floor, watching Hiccup through narrow eyes. It was going to work, Hiccup could feel it, sense the dragon coming around to him. Hiccup inhaled, felt that subtle joy in his heart to see a dragon tamed like this. It was a special thing, every time. It reminded him of that first time he put his hand out, closed his eyes, and trusted.

Oh, Toothless, come back to me.

He put his left palm to the dragon in front of him, watched as the creature's eyes got wide and curious, wary and suspicious all at once. He swallowed, whispered something again, a lilt at the end of his nonsense syllables. He put his hands in his lap, regarded the dragon, with his eyes tried to be happy, urge him forward, a cheeriness, a calm in his demeanor and in his gestures. The dragon hummed, backed away gently, the threat gone from his eyes. Hiccup inhaled. That was the first step.

He stepped up and approached the dragon. The creature eyed him critically, snarled from the side of his mouth. "It's all right," Hiccup hummed, keeping his distance. The Nightmare moved around him, curled his tail around Hiccup, came back on Hiccup's right side, curious now about this boy who didn't lash out at him, or shout at him, as the other people probably did. Hiccup took a deep breath, turned to face the dragon, whose red scales were an arm's length away now. He put his right hand out to the dragon's neck, kept his hand moving towards the dragon, laid it lovingly on the warm neck, the vibrations of his guttural breathing running life through Hiccup's veins.

Hiccup inhaled, kept his hand on the dragon, spread his fingers over the scales and rubbed, slowly, gently, rubbed his hand over the neck and up to the spines on the back of his head. The dragon purred. "Almost there," Hiccup breathed, squeezed shut his eyes a moment, opened them and inhaled. It wasn't like he could command the dragon to fire on everything, could he? The doubt came sudden and sharp. Dragons were their own person, they were individuals, they were distinct from their riders. And if he hadn't grown so close to one so as to make him know his mind and intent--

It was a wilder chance than he realized.

He grabbed the neck of the Nightmare, slid his right leg over the creature. The dragon jerked suddenly and Hiccup put more power into his step, settled on the creature. "It's okay--" he gasped, gently, not letting out the slow panic inside of him. "It's okay," he breathed, and stroked the creature. The dragon calmed somewhat, still edgy, and writhed his neck, clearly irritated by this foreign thing on it. Hiccup let his body calm, continued stroking the dragon, soothed him with his words while gradually working up his own confidence. If he got this dragon angry, if he let him go wild just a little, then he'd attack everything. There wasn't time to aim and fire, the dragon didn't know him that well, as his rider or as his authority. All Hiccup could hope for was a melee, a mad murderous rampage, full of fire and blood.

He inhaled.

Hiccup looked up, saw the watching Skirra Véllites and the handful of men with aimed bows in their hands. And below, within the circle of the kill ring, Heather's Council, watching anxiously, and Heather herself, coming closer now, a wonder in her face and a sureness in her step.

He felt horrible suddenly, to take them out like this. It's not like they hadn't done so much wrong, like they wouldn't do so much more terrible things, but killing them, outright . . . Hiccup was a man who believed in the value of life, that no matter how useless, or how much of a runt someone was, or how much someone didn't understand him, that he was worth something. He remembered his father, that story of his own past. He shouldn't be here if he didn't believe that.

He hesitated, a moment, and Heather was almost at his side. He chose to be rash, because it was now or never. He yelled at the dragon, suddenly, shouting angry and senseless, prayed the creature would go wild beneath him and do what he did naturally. Hiccup's instinct with dragons did not misguide him. The Nightmare reared, offended by the sudden turn in Hiccup's demeanor. Hiccup reached over and pushed the metal clasp around the Nightmare's jaws. He reached further, pushed, yelled as his body refused to be used in such painful ways, and the metal ring clattered to the stone floor, the sound sharp and shaking. He grabbed the horns of the dragon, weak again, and dizzy. The dragon roared, and he felt fire, saw its golden white light, jet out of the creature's jaws. He heard women screaming, men shouting to get out of the way, he felt panic, shock, the sound of arrows flying, and the dragon below him folded in suddenly, his neck jerking low and his body scooting forward. He wailed, in pain, and Hiccup looked out, saw that one of the arrows had hit the Nightmare's chest. He reached down, grabbed the wooden stake, pulled and threw it on the floor. He jerked the Nightmare's head up, trying to direct it upward, to fly, but the arrow had done its job and the dragon was yelping in pain. Hiccup looked out, saw another archer readying his bow, ready to fire. "No-- stop!" Hiccup screamed, and the next moment, Heather's Council was running towards him, somehow their pace so fast and heavy. An arrow came flying again and, barely missing his right leg, dug itself into the dragon. And another, pinning the end of his fur coat into the dragon's neck. The Nightmare yelped and Hiccup found himself surrounded, he could hear Heather screaming orders, and voices here in the ring, someone yelling in pain, and another man's angry voice as he shouted curses and yells of "why did we trust him?!"

He was swarmed off the dragon, his coat ripping as they pulled him free of the arrow. He flailed against the big grip of those council members. He could see the archers still with their arrows drawn, aimed at the dragon. "Don't kill him," he gasped, lashing under the grasp. He was moving too much and his injuries broke open and he hissed in agony, knowing those fragile wounds were bleeding again.

"We will if he won't calm down," shouted the man with the bow.

Hiccup yelled, "You have to be calm, you can't be angry with a dragon." He winced, realized he didn't have to tell them that, and maybe the Nightmare would then finish them all -- if they didn't finish him first. The men holding him pushed him to the ground suddenly, on his back, held his arms against the stone, trying in vain to keep him from flailing. Heather was standing over him suddenly, and in her clothing and skin, he could tell the dragon's fire had got her, charred her white cape. It was still smoking, still hot with fresh burns. She was flustered, angry and she knelt down to him, yanked his tunic collar up, sending shards of bad memories into his harried mind. The pressure against his wounded shoulder couldn't take the strain between his pinned arms and her sudden motion and he gasped thinly, went numb with blinding pain.

"You double-crosser," she hissed, and threw his head back on the ground. She stepped away and Hiccup rolled his head to the side, trying to cope with the torment of his untreated injuries.

He thought he heard something, out there, one of the men, his voice familiar, coming closer now, and now looking down at him from above. The dizziness in his vision barely made the image of Ragnar come to his eyes. He blinked, focused, and he saw that the man's face was burned, the skin pink and raw and his face locked in a scowl and a piercing stare of absolute and utter hatred. Hiccup, his mind dizzy and almost incomprehensible now, took some small pleasure in the sight of Ragnar's scarred face, even as Ragnar yelled down at him and kicked him, beat Hiccup mercilessly with the scabbard of his sword.

:: ::

Hiccup must have gone unconscious at some point during Ragnar's vengeance. He awoke on the same place on the floor of the kill ring, his body aching with a stinging, constant pain. He was chilled, and his coat and riding harness were gone. His clothing felt ripped, moist, dirty and threadbare. He felt himself, deftly, hoped there were no broken bones. He put a hand to his lips, found dried blood there, and over his cheek, scratches of wounds and scraped skin. He felt all power gone from his body, from his will, and he lay there, breathing, calmly, consciously, because somehow inhaling was hard to do.

There was a thin growl suddenly, from not so far away. Another dragon. His heart sank, and he remained there, breathing, trying vainly to get his strength back. He opened his eyes and looked up, at the ring above, where he'd seen people before. But there was no one now. It was empty, strangely quiet, but behind him suddenly, he felt a presence, heard a soft footfall and the swoosh of a cape. He knew who it was, and it didn't inspire any hope in him.

"You didn't tell us everything, did you, back at Berk?" Heather said quietly, kneeling down by his head.

He swallowed, trying to get moisture back in his throat.

"Ragnar has been rash lately, but I can't blame him." She pressed a spot on his arm which was sharply sensitive and he lashed. She let go. "I kept my part of the deal, and you tried not to. I can still give Toothless over, and I still have your friends."

He exhaled forcefully, yearning to hope, to reach out and grab some light in the midst of the storm clouds.

"You have something special with dragons," she said, almost wistfully. "It's more than mere rules and tricks."

"So you noticed . . ." His voice was small, though still edged with sarcasm. Of course it was different. It wasn't with the pragmatism of war, to train them merely for usage as impersonal weaponry. The thought filled him with sorrow. And training them wasn't all about demands, rewards, shouting, threatening, or superiority. It was about understanding, compassion, honesty, and care. The dragons needed it like anyone else. Maybe even more, since they understood so little the ways of man. But if some people would only see that dealing with dragons was not so different than dealing with one's neighbor . . . maybe all this wouldn't have happened. He leaned up to look at her, squinted his eyes and whispered. "Maybe it's love."

She regarded him, avoided his eyes suddenly and rose, pointed out at the dragon. "You don't have a choice, go do what you do best." She stepped in front of him, put her hands under him and lifted him to his feet. He leaned on her, all things sensible begging him not to trust her, but he was so weak, so . . . tired. She was right, after all. He had no choice. Not right now, at least. He could be slow in training, that's what he would do. They made him this weak anyway, so what did they expect? They'd get what they wanted, but it wouldn't be handed over on a silver platter.

She nudged him towards the dragon, a hissing Timberjack, and he limped forward, his good leg jumping with pain and his prosthetic, he suddenly noticed, bent somewhere at the base, making his gait uneven. The dragon looked dangerous, hesitant, and curious all at once. But it was pure, it was honest, and it was a familiar place he longed to go. "Come here," he said, a life slowly drifting into his voice. "Come here, it's all right."

:: ::

Hiccup moved in a strange surreality, from one dragon to the next, and he saw no one, no person, save Heather in the background, as she moved deftly along the walls, releasing the wild dragons and taking them back when they were calm and easy to handle. Hiccup felt his mind a blank, a strange escapism in the repeated beauty of seeing angry eyes turn to understanding and tenderness. On occasion, she handed him a slice of fresh, hot bread, warm on his tongue and soothing to the emptiness in his stomach. She gave him mead, and he took it, thinking that maybe the alcohol would make things go better in his mind, make things go easier, stop him from thinking for a while.

When she hooked the chain around his neck again, many hours later, she didn't pull or yank, waited for him to walk forward before she made her way to the outside of the Hall, through the narrow passage to the outdoors. It was getting dark now, and Hiccup blinked, inhaled. He was filled with a strange wonder, for he hadn't really realized the loveliness of a sunset in so long, it seemed. It was . . . beautiful.

The people were few in the town, and he was grateful. He didn't want to see anyone. It was quiet, still, and he figured too many of them were preparing for war, maybe out at sea already. Fighting his father perhaps. The thought made his mind clearer and an immense sadness filled his heart. The sun dipped below the horizon, casting orange on the water far away. The Skirra Véllite chief's house was high on a hill, so much like his own, and the style was even similar.

A pang hit his heart.

She led him up the right side of the hill, and he could see hedged farmed land on either side of it, curving around the hill. But he wasn't led inside. Rather, she led him around the house to the back, where the ground got rougher, less grass, more rocks, and afar, a small shack.

Something caught his eye on the far left end of the hillside. Movement, raised wings, and a shadow, a beautiful silhouette of that round thin body and those lovely long wings. "Toothless?" he breathed, and his heart went faster, his mind single-focused and impatient. He tugged at the chain. The dragons were behind some fenced-in area, he could read in the silhouettes. Toothless was behind the enclosure, with other dragons. But the chain on Hiccup's neck held back, and he felt her hand on his shoulder, pulling him back. "I gotta see Toothless," he mumbled, "please let me see him."

"Not today." Heather's voice was quiet, and she turned him slowly from his friend, towards the small house in front of him. Somehow Hiccup expected that answer. He watched his dragon's silhouette mingle into the other shadows, as the darkness fell over Herkja. He had the sudden thought that maybe none of them would get out of here, not alive.

A faint small voice in his head told him not to think such things. He lowered his head, shut his eyes and breathed.

"There's someone inside for you," Heather's voice came again, and he looked up, at the entrance to the door. It was closed and didn't open. Heather stepped forward to it, and knocked, before swinging open the door and walking in. The house was warm, and to Hiccup's sorrowed heart, it was comforting, inviting, pleasant. The fire in the center was alive and bright, and yet it reminded him of this morning. "Who's here?" he asked quickly, looking around.

"Normally, Hervi and Noor are here, the farmers come and go." She led him to a corner, sat him down on the wooden floor, on a scrap of fur rug. There was the clatter of chains around him, as she latched the metal leash to a hook in the wooden wall, strung up another string of metal from the wall and clapped the cuffed end to his right hand. Heather looked at him, and he watched her face flicker with the light from the fire in the center of the quiet house. Her face was motionless, not hard nor soft, without sympathy and without hate. She kept the gaze a while, patted his shoulder and rose, wordlessly sweeping past the fire and heading for the door. He watched her go, watched her open the door and shut it. He stared at the closed black door a minute, his mind empty. He slid down, watching the fire, that beautiful fire, alive in his eyes, warm on his chilled skin, comforting in its simplicity and care. His back hurt too much to lay on, and his arms were in no mood to hold his weight. He sprawled out face down, turning his scarred, tender cheek to the floorboards. He shivered, and he brought his hand up to his face, covered his eyes. He was grimacing underneath his hands, but not from the physical pain that was still there, still humming in the background . . . but from something else. His body shook and he prayed that what he'd done could be unmade.

The door opened suddenly and Heather was speaking, gently, with an air of authority. "The others will be here soon. My guard is ready to kill. Don't try anything. As he did."

Hiccup felt a familiar presence in the room, and a life trickled up in his heart. But his mental processes were slow, and before he could place the name of the silhouette and the figure that bent down, gasping to him, she'd thrown her arms over him, whispering desperately his name. He found the name. Astrid. But he couldn't find the strength to raise himself. She slid underneath him, and she must have found his body a dead weight. Her cries increased, and he could feel her shaking under him, as she slid her knee to support his weary chest, and her warm, soft arm wrapped lovingly around his jawline. "Oh, Hiccup," she breathed, and pulled his head close to her body. He could feel her cheek against his head, and she rocked him gently, caressing him. She'd been so worried, and he suddenly realized how horrible his fate must have sounded to someone who didn't know. But right now, to feel her so close, next to him, her love tangible and near, he rested, lay his head against her arm and her lap, didn't say anything, merely succumbed, slept or at least tried to, and listened to her voice, felt her breathing, closed his eyes and pretended, that they were still at home.

comments


26th Mar 2013, 7:02 PM

Servantatheart1

Hey Glory! I only know you through YouTube... you may know me as Servantatheart1. I've been reading your web novel, and I must say, WOaW! I'm impressed, and thoroughly enjoying it as well. You (and your sister) gave quite a talent! I'm writing a book myself, and reading this is a breath of inspiration. I must say, I've nearly cried several times while reading it. Especially last chapter. I was ecstatic when I saw a new chapter up today! And then I ended up crying on the inside again again XD. I can't wait to see how it will turn out. It's so exciting!!! And I know you're a college student, and I'm amazed you're even doing this. Overall, I just wanted to say, GREAT job, and keep it up! Im going to read it one more time now ^^ (I've read the entire thing twice through). BTW you have a way of just pushing every "Hiccup feels" button that exists DX. You are killing me!!! (But that's a good thing if you can get me this worked up. ;) And it's also interesting to see how Heather is treating Hiccup now...hmmm...
Anyway, so exiting to see the story unfold. I might just go work on mine after I finish reading this chapter. "Inspiration leaps along" as you might say :)
Great job guys, you have a new fan! Oh, and the image got me from the start. Absolutely positively gorgeous and heart-wrenching .

end of message

9th Apr 2013, 6:44 PM

inhonoredglory

I'm so so delighted you're reading this novel! It means so much to me and my sister. Thank you so much, dear. <3 I hope our next updates are just as exciting!

Inspiration leaps along!! :D

end of message
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